How to Turn Your iPhone into a Tricorder

Thanks to Netflix bringing on the entire collection of Star Trek television series, I’ve admittedly been on a bit of a Star Trek marathon over the past few weeks. Sure, being a Trekkie is nothing to brag about, and it probably won’t win me any points with the cool geeks on campus, but the fun of being a Star Trek fan has always been in the technology of the series, rather than learning Klingon and dressing up in funny costumes. I began to look at my iPhone and wonder whether or not it could replicate some of the functions of a tricorder.

After doing a little research, I discovered that the right combination of apps can actually replicate much of the functionality a standard tricorder gave the away team on missions. Some of the technology a tricorder is known for is still a bit out of reach, but who knows what Apple will include with the iPhone 5?

The three basic functions of a tricorder include GEO (geological), MET (meteorological), and BIO (biological).


Real-time GPS has been one of the abilities of the iPhone for quite some time. Instead of relying only on satellites to provide location information, Apple developed a different kind of GPS that uses cell towers to triangulate location. There are dozens of great GPS apps available, and the simplest one is actually included in the Maps application. While it doesn’t offer turn-by-turn directions (which most third-party ones do), it can help you find where you are and what’s around you in a snap.

Identifying various places and elements isn’t impossible for the iPhone, either. An app called Terraphone allows you to identify various geological elements based in part on your location. Identifying fossils and rock layers is also possible with this app.


It would be hard to even think about the iPhone without the Weather app coming to mind. In a sense, your iPhone comes with a fairly powerful weather system built right in, thanks to a little help from the cloud. You can upgrade your iPhone’s weather capabilities by adding one of hundreds of weather apps out there, the one I prefer most being the one made by the Weather Channel.

NASA has also created a chemical sensor for the iPhone that essentially turns it into a chemical detection system. While it may not be presently available for consumers, it is a definite sign of the potential of the platform.


How to Turn Your iPhone into a TricorderWhile the iPhone may not be able to diagnose a broken bone or a case of the Caldarian Flu using its on-board features alone, several hardware and software solutions have been developed for the platform that can assist you in monitoring and diagnosing various health issues. Withings iPhone Blood Pressure Monitor allows you to take your blood pressure using a specially designed cuff that plugs in to your iPhone, allowing you to take your blood pressure. Apps from online services like WebMD are excellent tools to assist you in determining whether specific symptoms warrant a trip to the sick bay or not.

Your iPhone can also break many of the language barriers in much the same way a tricorder can for away team members. For example, if you come across a sign printed in a language you do not understand enough to read, you can use Word Lens to see a real-time translation of the sign to your language of preference. This will allow you to avoid embarrassing moments of confusion as you attempt to make your way through strange new worlds countries.

Are you having trouble communicating with someone who speaks a different language? You can solve this problem by simply using an app like Jibbigo, which does a direct speech-to-speech translation. This will allow you to quickly establish communication with someone without having to find a human translator.

Over all, the tricorder and the iPhone aren’t too dissimilar in their functionality and capabilities. While we may still be years away from truly realizing the potential of a handheld device that can instantly identify components of alien environments and technologies, we can at least enjoy that kind of convenience here at home. For everything else, there’s always the TR-580 app.

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